What Surprised Me Most About Paul Ryan On The Stump
Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Paul Ryan on the stump. Even though he wasn't to speak until 11:30, my husband and I headed out early yesterday morning to Lakewood High School in Jefferson County, Colorado. Already cars were crowding streets and people were lining up to get in.
From our vantage point in the press area, the crowd was energized and excited about various down ticket races. By the time the main attraction arrived, the energy in the room was palpable. This is to be expected, of course. This was an event for party activists. When I mentioned I was headed out there yesterday, member Frank Monaldo wrote:
Mollie, I would be interested to see if there are any differences in your impressions of the rally and what we see in the press.
The answer is yes and no. Let's start by looking at how the legacy media and the bigwigs are covering Paul Ryan on the stump. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank had written up the previous campaign stop in a way that was completely unrecognizable from what I saw. He began by saying that the crowd just didn't respond to him. "Crickets," he said. Then he immediately contradicted himself by saying that when protesters interrupted him, the crowd rushed to his defense (but so loudly that they couldn't hear what he was saying).
It's just typical Dana Milbank stuff. Barely comprehensible, internally contradictory and designed -- above all -- to make anyone right of center look bad.
Compare that with the scene I saw in Lakewood. My husband, in "The Natural Look out, America. Paul Ryan is not just a policy wonk—he's a really good retail politician" described one part:
For one, he does local color well. It doesn't hurt that he's been vacationing in Colorado for years. He speaks fondly of coming to Colorado to fish for "brookies and rainbow" and the fitness buff casually mentions he's been "climbing fourteeners for over 20 years." (I have many Colorado relatives, and had to explain to multiple members of the press pool that this was local slang for peaks in the Rockies that rise above 14,000 feet.) Indeed, it was these on-pitch references to life in the Centennial State that local newsradio powerhouse KOA had on loop the rest of the day.
Having won over the crowd with pleasantries, Ryan imperceptibly worked his speech to a crescendo. The famous wonk wisely didn't stump on intricacies of, say, the Wyden-Ryan Medicare reform proposals. He made a series of moral arguments:
Guess what? Government doesn't regulate happiness, government doesn't define your happiness -- you define it for yourself. That's how we do it in America.
What we are offering is a very clear contrast, a very clear choice. What kind of country do you want to have? What kind of people do you want to be? We want that American idea, that opportunity society with a safety net that's there to help people can't help themselves, that's there to help people get back on their feet who are struggling.
But it's the opportunity society, the American ideal, where you can meet your potential, nothing is stopping you from meeting your destiny. Our job is to get the barriers out of your way, it's not to look at people who are working hard, who are succeeding, with resentment. It's to say, 'here's how to get things done, we want more people to be successful, because if more people are successful, America grows and we create jobs."
At that point, the crowd in the Lakewood High School gymnasium cut him off, pounded the bleachers, and offered a full 22 seconds of applause. But they weren't done yet—an older man in the crowd stood up, pointed at Ryan and screamed "Hey look, no teleprompter!" The crowd roared in approval, not because it was gratuitous swipe at the president, but because they were so grateful that Ryan was providing not just competing policy vision to Obama, but a substantive rhetorical alternative. And they clearly liked what they were hearing.
Yes. It was completely unexpected. As I've mentioned, I've been following Ryan for years and have known many people who worked for him. My impression of him from this is that he is incredibly hard-working, disciplined and smart. I had absolutely no idea he was such a good politician.
His charm, his genuine ability to connect with voters while offering persuasive rhetoric about freedom and liberty? Who does that remind you of?
So back to the media. You'll never in a million years get favorable coverage from the legacy media. That's obvious. And they are all making that rather dramatically known in Ryan's first week as the nominee.
But as we drove around Colorado yesterday, the clip that kept airing on the radio was Paul's reference to fourteeners and trout. This is both good and bad for him. Good in that all the other media criticisms of him being a tyrant who wants to burn your house down are going to come off even sillier than they already do. But bad in that there were also good clips that were more substantive. And those didn't get played.
The media always claim they want to cover the real issues. That's never true. But now that it's the major difference between the Obama and Romney campaign, I think we'll see an almost pathological desire to avoid giving readers and viewers facts about our entitlement programs and their effect on us. And if you want to know anything about what a Paul Ryan speech is actually like, I'd suggest you go hear it in person. There's no substitute for experiencing it in person.